by Jim Boyle
Fresh off an energizing trip to the Middle East to perform for U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait, Doug Gray, the lead singer for the Marshall Tucker Band, said he feels his life is complete.
But the wheels on his tour bus continue to spin, and the band will make a stop in Otsego Friday in between shows in Westbury, N.Y. and Sturgis, S.D. to help Travis Tritt kick off the second annual Otsego JamFest.
Jug, a cover band based in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area, will open at 6 p.m. for these two nationally acclaimed acts that will finish off the night and lead into a full day of activity for the Otsego JamFest.
After 40 years, the Marshall Tucker Band still draws a crowd — only now it spans three generations.
“In the ’70s and ’80s we had the ability to let people create memories, and now they have come back with their kids as grown ups and now they are back again with their grandchildren,” said Gray, 63. “It’s these people that kept me going. There’s so many people that we sold records to back then and I just can’t let them down.”
Performances while visiting far-off places like Kirkuk and Tikrit brought Gray back to his youth. He served in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War when he was just 19 years old. He rose to the rank of sergeant before coming home and starting the band.
The trip was sponsored by Stars for Stripes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing celebrity entertainment to internationally deployed U.S. military forces.
The handful of shows in Kuwait and Iraq were not nearly as important to Gray as the conversations on the ground he had with the servicemen and -women after the shows.
“I know how it feels to be far from home, and I know how it feels to come back,” Gray told one reporter. “And I sure as hell know what it feels like to miss people.”
Gray, who once got to see a USO performance by Bob Hope while stationed in Vietnam, shared with them his experiences as a soldier and listened in amazement to theirs.
“They looked like me when I was their age,” Gray told the Star News. “Some were older but they’re out flying planes and doing different things. The young kids looked like they were 12 to me.”
Seeing them and talking to them made Gray feel even luckier and more blessed than he has already felt throughout his life.
Gray counts among his accomplishments his rise to sergeant in the U.S. Army and the 40-year run with the Marshall Tucker Band.
The band was formed in Spartanburg, S.C., in 1971 by Gray, guitarist Toy Caldwell (born 1948, died Feb. 25, 1993), his brother bassist Tommy Caldwell (born 1950, died April 4, 1980), guitarist George McCorkle (born 1947, died June 29, 2007), drummer Paul Riddle, and reed player Jerry Eubanks.
The group’s style combined rock, country and jazz, and featured extended instrumental passages on which lead guitarist Toy Caldwell shone, according to information on the band’s website (www.marshalltucker.com).
The band was signed to Capricorn Records and released their debut album, “The Marshall Tucker Band,” in March 1973.
They gained recognition through a tour with the Allman Brothers Band and found significant success during the course of the ’70s, with most of their albums going gold.
Their peak came with the million-selling album “Carolina Dreams” and its Top 15 single, “Heard It in a Love Song,” in 1977.
Since then, the group has continued to write, record, tour and entertain fans from around the world. Planning for 2012 is already under way.
Gray says he’s looking forward to the trip to Minnesota. His first time performing here with the band was at Minnehaha Park for a festival where David Crosby also performed.
“I remember on the plane ride in saying no wonder why they call this land of a million lakes,” Gray said.
He’s been back to perform and on one occasion to bring his two daughters to the Mall of America. They are now adults, and Gray is a grandfather.
He says there’s nothing more dear than spending time with a grandchild. “It sounds kind of hokey, but what’s better than feeling good,” Gray said.
The lead singer for the Marshall Tucker Band is excited to share a stage with Travis Tritt, who came to his studio before he cut his first single. The two have been known to collaborate on the stage together, but when busy schedules collide there are no promises.
“I encourage people to come prepared to have a good time and enjoy the entire festival,” he said.
Friday, Aug. 5
4:30 p.m. – Doors Open
6 p.m. – Jug
7:30 p.m. – Marshall Tucker Band
9:30 p.m. – Travis Tritt
(Tickets available at www.otsegojamfest.com and at Denny’s of Otsego, Holiday Inn of Otsego and Rockwoods of Otsego)
Saturday Aug. 6
7 a.m. – 12 mile Canoe Race (8 a.m. 6 mile Canoe Race)
9 a.m. – Ava Inspired 5K walk/run (10:30 a.m. walk)
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Frankensteiners Car, Truck & Bike Show
•Flame Throwing Contest
•Muffler Rapping Contest
Noon to 2 p.m. Breast Cancer Ride
Noon to 8 p.m. Community Festival:
•Animal interaction park
•Huge Inflatable Carnival including everything from kiddie playlands to mechanical bull rides
• Dunk Tank
• Beer Garden
• Food Stands
• Arts & Crafts
• Retail Exhibits
• Car & Truck Show
• Motorcycle Show
Noon – 3 p.m. $7 Waterpark Passes
1 to 2:30 p.m. — Battle of the Bands
3 to 5 p.m. — Seven of Each
5:30 – 7:30 p.m. — Transit Authority (Chicago tribute band)
8 p.m. to midnight — High & Mighty